Tuberculosis At Occupy Atlanta, Health Threats At Occupy Wall Street

In addition to the rising violence that James Joyner made note of this morning, the practice of camping out long-term in the cold seems to be having a real public health impact.

In Atlanta, for example, they’ve discovered a drug-resistant version of tuberculosis right in the heart of Occupy Atlanta:

The home base for Occupy Atlanta has tested positive for tuberculosis.

The Fulton County Health Department confirmed Wednesday that residents at the homeless shelter where protesters have been occupying have contracted the drug-resistant disease. WGCL reports that a health department spokeswoman said there is a possibility that both Occupy Atlanta protesters and the homeless people in the shelter may still be at risk since tuberculosis is contracted through air contact.

“Over the last three months were have been two persons who have resided in this facility who have been diagnosed with confirmed or suspected infectious tuberculosis (TB),” said Fulton County Services Director Matthew McKenna in a written statement to CBS Atlanta. “One of these persons was confirmed to have a strain of TB that is resistant to a single, standard medication used to treat this condition. All person(s) identified as positive have begun treatment and are being monitored to ensure that medication is taken as directed.”

The Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless has indicated that two cases have been made public knowledge to the group, the first coming from someone who contracted the disease in September. The identities of the people who have contracted the disease, however, have not been disclosed by the health department to this point.

The news of the tuberculosis contractions could force Occupy Atlanta to move once again. WGCL reports that more than 100 protesters made the move to the homeless shelter Oct. 30 after Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed evicted Occupy Atlanta from Woodruff Park, citing that they were no longer allowed to camp out overnight. The homeless shelter is also facing an eviction of its own from the city.

Up north, meanwhile, there are health concerns developing in Zucotti Park:

The chorus began quietly at a recent strategy session inside Zuccotti Park, with a single cough from a security team member, a muffled hack between puffs on his cigarette. Then a colleague followed. Then another.

Soon the discussion had devolved into a fit of wheezing, with one protester blowing his nose into the mulch between clusters of tents.

“It’s called Zuccotti lung,” said Willie Carey, 28, a demonstrator from Chapel Hill, N.C. “It’s a real thing.”

As the weather turns, the protesters in Zuccotti Park, the nexus of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Lower Manhattan, have been forced to confront a simple truth: packing themselves like sardines inside a public plaza, where cigarettes are shared and a good night’s sleep remains elusive, may not be conducive to good health.

“Pretty much everything here is a good way to get sick,” said Salvatore Cipolla, 23, from Long Island. “It’ll definitely thin the herd.”

The city’s health department said that officials had visited the park and that it would continue to monitor conditions with winter looming. “It should go without saying that lots of people sleeping outside in a park as we head toward winter is not an ideal situation for anyone’s health,” the department said in a statement.

Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr., the director of clinical microbiology and immunology at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the conditions could leave park-dwellers susceptible to respiratory viruses; norovirus, the so-called winter vomiting virus, which can lead to vomiting and diarrhea and which could quickly overwhelm the limited bathroom facilities in the area; and tuberculosis, which is more common in indigent populations and can be spread by coughing.


A team from Union Health Center in Chelsea came on Wednesday and Thursday to administer flu shots for no charge, a welcome arrival for many sniffling protesters, although some refused vaccinations, citing a government conspiracy.

Although condoms are often available on-site, Dr. Tierno said the protest’s evolution to private tents, from sleeping out in the open, had raised the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. The site’s pounding drum circles, he added, could lead to hearing damage. He compared conditions at Zuccotti Park to those in a hajj — the pilgrimage to Mecca, in which whole groups of people have come down with respiratory infections in a short time — and those experienced by the flower children of the 1960s, when, he said, communal living situations created problems with sanitation and sexually transmitted diseases.

Ms. McCarthy, who said the month she had spent in the park was the longest amount of time she had remained in one place in two years, noted the health obstacles might be a point of pride for some demonstrators who view sickness as the product of their sacrifice. “That’s what makes an occupation such a powerful statement,” she said. “We will risk our own health and give up completely our own comfort.”

As with the violence James cited this morning, these reports, along with the report earlier this week that a man had been found dead at Occupy New Orleans and had apparently been so for several days, are likely to increase the pressure to enforce laws against camping out in public, as well as public health laws. Willfully exposing people to serious diseases is about as far from legitimate political protest as I think you can go in this situation, and people refusing medical treatment because of “government conspiracy” are likely in need of psychiatric help of some kind.

Time to put away the tents, folks. The show’s over.

H/T: Keith Martin

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. john personna says:

    So if a man dies in a park, and there is no OWS to trigger the blog cascade, will anyone know?

  2. Brainster says:

    You missed the best line in the Zoo-Cotti piece:

    “We’re the biggest tourist attraction in New York,” he said. “And we shake everyone’s hands.”

    I’d pass on the handshake, folks!

  3. Catfish says:

    Yes, it is well past time for these areas to be vacated and fumigated thoroughly. These are exactly the conditions that can cause deadly viruses and germs to spread to the general populace.
    Is is unfortunate that a lot of the homeless people have no where else to go. Many have physical and mental problems, and, of course, a few are violent, but most are not. Several years ago, misguided efforts to close many asylums, but there were no agencies to take these people in. Churches either don’t have the money or are spending it on more buildings that stand unused most of the week. And no one wants an asylum, group home, or treatment center in their neighborhood.